Exhibition season is upon us

We are getting more orders to provide frames for exhibitions. The photos show one order for a number of inlay frames part way through the making process. These are the small frames, we have a similar quantity of larger frames to begin making tomorrow.

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Acid Burn on a Watercolour

When having your art framed it is important to consider the use of conservation mount board. Mount board comes into direct contact with the artwork and should therefore be chosen to ensure that no damage is caused to the artwork, this is particularly important if the art has value or is expected to gain in value in the future.

The effect of using non-conservation mount board includes ‘acid burn’ and discoloration.  Acid burn is caused by the oxidation of lignin’s in the paper the mount board is made from.  The oxidation process releases acids and other reactive substances and it is these that can cause damage to the artwork.

A classic symptom of acid burn are the yellowish-brown stains that appear around the edges of the artwork where the mount come comes into contact with the paper. If a non-conservation backing is used, and not protected from the artwork by a barrier board or under mount, the acid burn can spread over the entire artwork.  Acid burn is common in older artworks framed before conservation materials became more widely available.

Not only will acid burn cause your art to become discoloured, but will also make the paper brittle and weak, leaving it open to further damage, such as easy tearing and further deterioration.

I have a water colour sketch in the workshop and I thought I’d share a couple of photographs showing the kind of damage that using non-conservation boards and framing techniques can do. There is a post here which also discusses the problem.

Acid Burn 1The photo shows the bottom left corner of the painting; the brown stain can clearly be seen.  This is ‘acid burn’. I am reframing this sketch with conservation board to ensure its long term protection. It is possible to have browning removed by specialist paper coservators but it can be an expensive exercise, much better to avoid it in the first place.

water3Another region of the same picture also shows signs of browning, but another problem – cockling – is also present. Cockling is caused by using tape incorrectly, in this case a strip of selotape was used to hold the picture in the mount.  The picture expands in changes of humidity and cockling is the result.  This will be the subject of a future post.

How to spot the early signs and avoid acid burn

Fortunately it is possible to check to see if there is a risk of future damage to your art from inappropriate mount materials. A simple check of your framed items will soon reveal the tell tale signs of browning in the bevel (cut inside edges) of the mount boards.  If you have items that you value then please consider having them reframed using conservation grade mount board.

bad-framing.jpgThis is an image from an earlier post showing the browning that occurs in non conservation grade mounts. Unfortunatley nothing was done to resolve this problem until too late as can bee see in the clear browning of the edges of the map.

The Five Levels of Framing

The Five Levels of Framing are set out in the UK by the Fine Art Trade Guild and act as a framework and set of guidelines for choosing the appropriate materials and methods suitable for framing your items.

When having something framed it is worth thinking about the standard you want the item framed to.  This may not have crossed your mind, but there is a wide range of framing material available to the bespoke framer and it is their job to select the correct material for the job. While nobody is compelled to use these guidelines It does make sense to use them as reference when considering having something framed.

The Five Levels are:

  • Museum
  • Conservation
  • Commended
  • Budget
  • Minimum

Unless specifically asked Ashcraft Framing only uses the top three on the list of standards.  See the end of this article for fuller explanation of the five levels.

Some Practical Examples

Recently we framed an original water colour by John Nash, the architect who designed much of central London including Buckingham Palace.  In consultation with the owner we chose to use Museum standard as the print was of considerable value and needed the best materials to ensure long term protection.

Another job which came in during the same week was a photograph of a dog being given as a gift.  The photograph was printed from digital file and so was easily reproducible at minimum cost and although attractive, it was of no particular sentimental value.  In discussion with the customer we chose to use Commended level framing for this item.

The 5 levels do not mean the workmanship is any different between minimum and Museum, all the framing is done to the same high standards,  it just means that the correct techniques and materials are used appropriate to the value of the item being framed and the budget of the customer.

Long Descriptions Below

Museum Level

Museum Level Framing is not confined to museums’ works. Some artwork gains museum-quality status over time. Works that are to be preserved for future generations, including high value items and artwork of potential or historical value should be framed to Museum Level, where possible. Processes are intended to be fully reversible up to 35 years, which means that the framed work can be returned to its former state, i.e. prior to framing, at any time, assuming that the artwork is not inherently unstable

Good original frames should be retained wherever possible as these can enhance the value of the artwork. Frames can be replicated for display purposes, while the original is preserved in museum storage. Sometimes it is advantageous to retain an original window mount (possibly gilded or decorated). A qualified framer will know how to do this and protect the artwork from damage this original window mount could otherwise inflict on the artwork. Museum Level framing should give the best possible protection for your artwork or objects, whilst looking good and enabling you to view your framed work to best effect. By using the highest quality materials available and the best techniques, the framer can give your work protection from physical and mechanical damage, airborne pollution and acids generated by many framing materials. Museum Level framing should be good for at least 30 years in normal conditions. However, pictures are rarely hung in ideal conditions, so we recommend that you have the frame checked every five years or so by a professional framer. The Fine Art Trade Guild recommends that you agree a ‘condition of artwork’ report on all works to be framed to Museum Level that are not brand new, prior to framing. Appropriate remedial action on deteriorating artwork should be taken before reframing.

 Conservation Level

Guild Conservation Level framing gives a high level of protection for your artwork or objects, whilst looking good and enabling you to view your framed work to best effect. It should give virtually as high a level of protection as Museum Level framing and in many markets, for example the USA, no distinction is made between the two. By using conservation quality materials and the best techniques, the framer can give your work protection from physical and mechanical damage, airborne pollution and acids generated by many framing materials

Conservation Level framing should be good for 20 years in normal conditions, but be vigilant: pictures are rarely hung in ideal conditions, so we recommend that you have the frame checked every five years or so by a professional framer. The Fine Art Trade Guild recommends that you agree a ‘condition of artwork’ report on all works to be framed to Conservation Level that are not brand new, prior to framing.  Appropriate remedial action on deteriorating artwork should be taken before reframing. Some framers can do this work; but not all. Check and ask for credentials

Suitable for:

Objects and artworks that are to be preserved for future generations and collectables should be framed to Conservation Level, if not to Museum Level. Original artwork deserves Conservation or Museum Level Framing. Limited edition prints of moderate to high value that are not framed to Conservation or Museum Level may not hold or increase their value over time as well as those that are. This is because Conservation Level framing, as well as Museum Level framing, requires that all processes affecting the artwork be fully reversible. In other words, what you have framed to Guild Conservation Level can be returned to its former state, i.e. prior to framing, at any time up to 20 years, assuming that the artwork is not inherently unstable

Good original frames should be retained wherever possible as these can enhance the value of the artwork. Frames can be replicated for display purposes, while the original is preserved in museum storage. Sometimes it is advantageous to retain an original window mount (possibly gilded or decorated). A qualified framer will know how to do this and protect the artwork from damage this original window mount could otherwise inflict on the artwork

Commended Level

Guild Commended Level framing should visually enhance the artwork and will give a moderate level of protection from physical and mechanical damage, airborne pollution and acid damage. A window mount or slip should normally be used to visually enhance the artwork and distance it from the glazing. Processes do not have to be reversible so make sure your framer knows if the chance to get your work back to its condition prior to framing is important to you. The Guild recommends that processes should be reversible whenever possible, as the future value of works cannot always be foreseen and work ‘in mint condition’ commands the best secondary market value.

The target time for this level of framing is around five years in normal conditions, but this can be improved by requesting Conservation Level quality of materials, such as mount board, where you can afford it. Consult with your professional framer. Always have items and artwork that you value framed with the best possible materials; this will help them give you pleasure for longer. Commended Level framing gives you a wider choice of mount board colour options than Conservation Level and some artwork will look better when dry mounted, a process that can also help disguise previous damage but that is usually not readily reversible.

Commended Level Framing is suitable for replaceable artwork of limited commercial and/or moderate sentimental value and where visual appearance is important. The target lifetime assumes that artwork is not inherently unstable. Commended Level framing is not recommended for high value limited edition prints or original artwork, which should be framed to Conservation or Museum Level.

Budget Level

Because that is the best you can afford! It’s better than Minimum and better than readymade framing. If you can afford to frame your items or artwork at Commended Level, the Fine Art Trade Guild recommends you do so, as that gives it a degree of protection from physical and mechanical damage, airborne pollution and acid damage. Budget Level framing makes no pretence to protect the artwork or its long-term visual appearance. However, Budget Level Framing does provide a visually acceptable frame at a budget price and is suitable for replaceable art work of no commercial or sentimental value.

Minimum Level

Please, don’t do this to your pictures….

Answers to “Spot the avoidable problems with this frame”.

OK, a few days ago I asked if anyone could identify the problems with this frame.  Some are more obvious than others but here they are:

1.   Flies, an obvious one.  They come in from the front of the picture and creep around under the glass and get in between the glass and board and inside any other layers.  Sealing the back of the frame is not enough, the sandwich of glass and boards need to be sealed. We do this and call it Bug Free Framing.

2.  Acid Burn.  See the dark brown stain running along the top of the map?  This is acid burn.  It has been caused by using cheap boards.  The ‘acid burn’ is caused by lignin in the pulp the boards are made from, oxidising over time and leaching out into the surrounding material, including your beloved print.  Using conservation grade boards will prevent this.

3.  Unsightly browning of the mount board.  See above.

4. The map has moved. You can tell this by the location of the ‘acid burn’ line and its slight angle.  It means that the tape holding the print in place has failed, probably due to the glue drying out.  Why has the glue dried out?  I’d put money on the tape being masking tape or selotape, both of which will dry out and leave a nasty residue.  We use conservation grade gummed tape when mounting artwork.

All of the above can be avoided and the value of the art preserved if you ask for ‘conservation’ grade materials, in particular board, and ask for the frame to be sealed. Visit a bespoke framer who is a member of the Fine Art Trade Guild.  More of which in an upcoming post.